Archives West Finding Aid
Table of Contents
- Overview of the Collection
- Content Description
- Use of the Collection
- Administrative Information
- Detailed Description of the Collection
- Names and Subjects
Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church Collection, 1940-2015
- Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church (Portland, Or.)
- Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church Collection
- 1940-2015 (inclusive)19402015
- 5.9 cubic feet, (9 document cases, 4 flat boxes)
- Collection Number
- Coll 189
- Records of the largest African American congregation in Oregon, formed in 1944 and led for most of its history by Rev. Oliver B. Williams. Includes extensive photographic documentation of church activities and members, programs for services, clippings, prayer books and hymnals, and other historical materials.
Oregon Historical Society Research Library
1200 SW Park Avenue
- Access Restrictions
The collection is open to the public.
Historical NoteReturn to Top
Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church first began as the First Baptist Church of Burton Homes, an urban African-American church in Vancouver, Washington. It was formed in 1944 under the Rev. James William Brown. Most church members were employees of the Kaiser Company, which operated shipyards and the housing project of Burton Homes, among others. Soon after its formation, 26-year-old Reverend Oliver Booker “O.B.” Williams came to the Northwest with his new bride, Willa Ida Jackson-Williams. He took over leadership of the congregation in March 1945.
When the Kaiser Co. closed its Washington operations and Burton Homes, the church and many members moved to one of its other housing projects, Bagley Downs. When this also closed a year later, the church migrated in 1946 to the Albina area of North Portland, temporarily holding services in the Prince Hall’s Masonic Temple building at N. Rodney and N. Russell Streets. Here, the church and the St. James Baptist Church (which also occupied the Masonic Temple space) merged, with Rev. Williams as its spiritual leader. In 1947 Rev. Williams located a condemned building at N. Vancouver and N. Hancock Streets in northeast Portland, and with the help of the entire congregation rehabilitated the structure into their new spiritual home, naming it the Vancouver Avenue Baptist Church. That year the church joined the National Baptist Convention of America, and in 1948, it became affiliated with the National Baptist Sunday School and the Baptist Young Peoples Union.
By 1950, rapid membership growth caused Rev. Williams to seek out a larger gathering place. He found it at 3138 N. Vancouver Ave., just blocks away from its current location. The original church and parsonage, built in 1909, could hold 600 worshippers. The church took possession in March 1951. Also that year, under Rev. Williams, the Baptist State Convention of Oregon was officially organized, uniting local churches. The Convention created four initial organizational auxiliaries, including the Senior Mission, the Junior Mission, the Brotherhood, and the Ushers. In 1959 neighboring states joined the organization, and the name was changed to the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest. In 1968, Rev. Williams was elected president of the General Baptist Convention of the Northwest for a life term, in honor of his dedication and leadership. As membership surpassed 800, in 1955 Rev. Williams embarked on a renovation and expansion plan. This was completed in 1958, making the church the largest African-American house of worship in Oregon.
The 1960s brought the civil rights movement, and the church was actively involved. The highlight was Dr. Martin Luther King’s visit to Portland in 1961, where he met with local African-American church leaders, including Rev. Williams. Vancouver Avenue became a central polling place in North Portland for African-Americans. Also by the 1960s, the church had an exceptionally strong choir program, with seven full-voice ensembles.
In 1970, on his 25th pastoral anniversary, Rev. Williams received an honorary doctorate degree in theology from the Central Theological Seminary. On May 18, 1993, he passed away after illness, at the age of 76. He was survived by his wife Willa, who also received great accolades for her support of her husband and dedication to the church. She was actively involved in the National and Regional Baptist conventions, and received the “Woman of Dedication” award for 1977-78 from Church Women United.
Rev. Williams was succeeded by two pastors before Pastor J. W. Matt Hennessee was elected. He served as the church’s leader beginning in 2005.
Content DescriptionReturn to Top
The collection covers various aspects of the history of the church and of its leader, Rev. O.B. Williams, and his wife Willa Jackson Williams. It includes a variety of photographs, with a large percentage of the images relating to the various church groups, including choirs, youth groups, and ushers. A large collection of members’ memorial cards, the pastoral anniversaries of Rev. Williams, some bibles and hymnals (many annotated by Rev. Williams, including two dated 1867 and 1890), church financial records and meeting minutes, and a collection of materials from Dr. Martin Luther King’s 1961 visit are included. A small collection of the Williams’ personal photographs and ephemera can also be found in collection.
Use of the CollectionReturn to Top
The Oregon Historical Society owns the materials in the Research Library and makes available reproductions for research, publication, and other uses. The Society does not necessarily hold copyright to all materials in the collections. In some cases, permission for use may require seeking additional authorization from copyright owners.
Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church collection, Coll 189, Oregon Historical Society Research Library
Administrative InformationReturn to Top
The collection is arranged in the following series:
- Series A: Photographs
- Series B: Church papers and ephemera
- Series C: Books
- Series D: Church financial records and minutes
- Series E: Church member records and ephemera
- Series F: O.B. & Willa Williams biographical information
- Series G: General materials
Most of the materials in the collection were kept by Mrs. Willa Williams, wife of the church's long-time paster, Rev. O. B. Williams. The materials were eventually gathered by Raymond Burell, the church historian, who oversaw the donation to the Oregon Historical Society.
Lib. Acc. 26598.
Women's Day scrapbook and accompanying materials from Lib. Acc. 28495.
Videotape recording of Celebration of Life of O.B. Williams (1993) is housed in the moving image collection of the Oregon Historical Society.
Church artifacts, including choir robes, a podium, benches, and a stained glass window are held by the Oregon Historical Society Museum.
Materials from Lib. Acc. 28495 relating to the Central Methodist Church separated to Coll 474.
Raymond Burell, Vancouver Avenue : yesterday, today, and forever : celebrating 65 years as a spiritual landmark (Portland, Or. : Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church, 2009)
Detailed Description of the CollectionReturn to Top
Series A: PhotographsReturn to Top
Rev. O.B. Williams, some with Mrs. Williams
|1935-1970 and undated|
Mrs. Willa Ida Williams
Rev. Williams pastoral anniversaries; 30th pastoral committee
Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to Portland, with local pastors
Rev. Billy Graham visit to Portland: luncheon and with local pastors
Church buildings, various locations
Includes laser printed photographs of the church neighborhood and related structures by Raymond Burell, 2015.
|ca. 1947-1963; 2015|
General church services; church ushers (youth board, senior board); communion
Choir: 100-voice, youth, junior, senior, and mass choirs; gospel, mission, male and mass choruses; and Williams Choralers
Women’s groups: Women’s Day, mission dept, pastor’s aid club, mothers’ union, deaconess board, Christian interracial club, ministers’ wives’ council, junior mission, mission, senior mission
Men’s groups: deacons, Men’s Day
Church youth activities: youth usher board, vacation Bible school, Sunday school assembly
Church people, events and groups, misc.
O.B. Williams portrait
Church groups (ca. 1940s & 1950s); church services (ca. 1950s); church exterior (ca. 1950s); church exterior with congregation (ca. 2000s); 100 voice choir recital (1952)
Mothers board, deaconess board, missionary dept.
Painting of Willa Williams, by artist Crutchfield
Series B: Church Papers and EphemeraReturn to Top
Letters to the church, misc. subjects
Copy of Bible lecture by Williams (undated); Sunday school directory and pamphlet (1961 and 1988); church member directories (1958-1992);Church service programs and program builders; (1949-2007); ushers pamphlets (undated); church announcements (1956-1963)
Youth/young adult ephemera: education materials, directory (1960-1979); education materials, certificates and awards (1963, 1980); materials, Sunday school awards & cradle roll (1956); Bible school programs (1954, 1960); Graduation recognition service program (1963); Boy Scouts of America troop charter (1966); National Assn. of Youth Clubs fellowship service program (1992)
Event programs, women’s groups: General Baptist Convention; National Missionary Baptist Convention of America Minister’s Wives Conference; Sr. Mission Society prayer breakfast; General Baptist Convention of the NW, Woman’s Auxiliary of the St. John District Association of Calif.; parts of Nevada and East Africa, Women’s Day; Colored Women’s Club (1978-1996; typed history of the Jr. Missionary Society (undated)
Men’s Day: news or pamphlet clipping (undated); 34th annual Men’s Day ribbon
General Baptist Convention of the NW programs (1968 & 1971); National Baptist Sunday School & BTU Congress program (1961)
Church choirs materials: hymn pamphlet (undated); choir sheet music (1950s); graded choir information pamphlets (undated); Gospel Chorus original member list (1948); history of Junior Choir (undated); musical department bylaws (undated)
Church group descriptions
Pastoral anniversary programs for Gen. Baptist Convention of the NW, O.B. Williams
Pastoral anniversary programs, O.B. Williams (1959-1992 & undated)
Newspaper clippings: O.B. Williams’ pastoral anniversaries
Pastoral anniversary napkin and love offering envelope
Ephemera: pastoral anniversary ribbons, various pastors
Clippings & ephemera, Martin Luther King, Jr. visit to Portland & church
Church anniversary celebration programs
Church history book publication & OHS exhibit
Ushering dept. roll call list, senior 1, 2 & 3
Plaque, O.B. & Willa Williams’ 45th wedding anniversary
Plaque, awarded to Willa Williams
Scrapbook of Women's Day Event
Event Programs Accompanying Women's Day Event Scrapbook
Includes programs for events celebrating Martin Luther King Day and a program fro the church's 60th anniversary celebration.
Newspaper Clippings Accompanying Women's Day Event Scrapbook
Series C: BooksReturn to Top
“Church Officers at Work” (1951); “Your Life and Your Church” (1955); “The Training Program of the Church” (1966)
“Hymns for Junior Worship” (1940); “National Baptist Sunday School Lesson Commentary” (1966)
“Sunday School Officers” (1956); “A Guide to Sunday School Enlargement” (1968)
“Standard Manual: Grand Lodge of the A.F. & A.M. of Oregon”
Series D: Church Financial Records and MinutesReturn to Top
Financial reports: financial report envelopes (1956 & undated); Sunday school financial reports (1956); offerings annual reports (1955-1956); group captain financial reports (1957); various church group financial reports (1958)
Financial reports: various church group financial reports
Bound ledger, unknown church group
Bound ledger, boys’ chorus
Bound ledger, ushering dept., incl. loose sheets orig. tucked into ledger, dime collector page
Bound ledger, music dept., gospel chorus
Bound ledger, music dept.
Bound ledger, music dept., gospel chorus
Bound ledger, music dept
Bound ledger, music dept.
Meeting minutes & club roster, Christian Professional League
Spiral-bound notebook minutes, music dept.
Bound ledger, music dept. officer roster, financial records, minutes
Bound ledger, music dept. rosters, financial records, minutes
Series E: Church Member Records and EphemeraReturn to Top
Church guest book
Church guest books
Bound register, church membership
Written obituary information (1980s & undated); written condolence letter (1984)
Series F: O.B. & Willa Williams Biographical InformationReturn to Top
Degree certificates, O.B. Williams
Ephemera honoring Willa Ida Jackson-Williams: newspaper clippings, “Madam’s Day” program
Teaching certificate for Willa Williams
Newspaper clippings: O.B. Williams memorials and obituaries
Ephemera: O.B. Williams homegoing celebration (funeral), program & ribbon
Series G: General MaterialsReturn to Top
African-Americans in the news
Names and SubjectsReturn to Top
- African Americans--Oregon--Portland
- African Americans--Oregon--Portland--Photographs
- Burell, Raymond--Collector
- Williams, Oliver Booker--Archives
- Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church (Portland, Or.)
- Portland (Or.)--Social life and customs
Form or Genre Terms
- King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968--Photographs (creator)
- Williams, Willa Jackson (creator)